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3— Expanding the Poundian Field: Whitman, Williams, and Zukofsky
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Expanding the Poundian Field:
Whitman, Williams, and Zukofsky

As we return to Whitman as a base, we return to just such a poetic courage as the early Pound envisions in those who would "exist close on the vital universe." In Whitman there is no ambiguity about the source of meaning. It flows from a "Me myself" that exists in the authenticity of the universe.
Robert Duncan, Fictive Certainties

One day Ezra and I were walking down a back lane in Wyncote. I contended for bread, he for caviar. I became hot. He, with fine discretion, exclaimed: "Let us drop it. We will never agree, or come to an agreement."
William Carlos Williams, Kora in Hell

will you give yourself airs
from that lute of Zukofsky?
Robert Duncan, "After Reading BARELY AND WIDELY"

The rediscovery of Walt Whitman by poets in the 1950s and 1960s represented a move toward a poetry that was more "open" in its aesthetic and more blatantly American in its origin. As such, this rediscovery served as a powerful response to the then fashionable style of Anglo-American "academic" verse. Whitman, along with Pound and Williams, represented the possibility of a greater creative freedom, the sense of making it new. His poetry exemplified, in opposition to the formally closed and emotionally cloistered poems of the New Critical mode, an expansiveness, an inclusiveness, and a celebration of the world of objective experience. Whitman's poetry not only anticipated in many ways the poetic concerns of the postwar years; it also served as a forerunner to much of the poetry of Pound and Williams, who were seen by Olson, Ginsberg, Duncan, Creeley, and Snyder as continuing the tradition of American poetry that Whitman had begun.


Whether Pound would have placed himself in such a line is debatable. Despite an important involvement with Whitman in his own poetry and other writings, Pound had strong reservations about Whitman as a poet. Pound also rejected the notion of a purely "American" art, which Whitman's work represented to many other poets, finding such a label indicative of parochialism or sentimental and misplaced patriotism. In essays such as "Provincialism the Enemy" (1917) and "National Culture—A Manifesto" (1938), Pound argued against the idea that an "American culture" could exist that was not in tune with developments in Europe. The "pseudoculture" of America in the early twentieth century was for Pound "twenty years behind" that of its European counterpart. Pound considered the true American culture that of Jefferson and Adams, a "Franco-English" racial blend of "French ideation" with "the one English segment that ever threw off the tyranny of [its] conquerors" (SP, 164). Pound excluded from his notion of American culture a writer such as Williams, who was of partly Spanish descent. Williams, Pound claimed, was not American at all but "international"; it was not he or even Pound himself who had followed the American "line" of Whitman, but the New Englander Cummings, "Whitman's one living descendent."

If Pound was somewhat reticent about seeing himself as a Whitmanic poet, younger writers such as Duncan were not. Duncan found in Whitman's poetry a prototype of an Imagist use of language and of the relation of poetic language to the physical body, as implied by Pound's conception of logopoeia, phanopoeia, and melopoeia. Duncan also saw personified in Whitman the bias stubbornly held by Pound and Williams against abstraction in language and the need to "test language, as if many of its functions were unreal or unsound or unsavory, against a control taken, in mimesis of the empiricism presumed in the scientific method, from the observable 'objective' world" (FC, 163). As read by Duncan and others of his generation, Whitman was the instigator of many of the defining conceptions of a new tradition in American poetry, one opposed not only to the rigid self-control and "propriety" of the New Critical mode


but to the dominant mode of all Western poetry, which Olson would define as the "nonprojective." Like Pound, Whitman was able to open a space for poetry that was not based on an imposed rationality of form or idea but that explored in unambiguous terms a direct relation of the poet to objects in the "vital universe," to sources of meaning that could be shared by poet and reader (FC, 191).

Duncan, Olson, and Creeley were at least partly correct in their assessment of Pound's debt to Whitman. At about the time that Pound was first formulating the ideas about poetry that in later manifestations were to have such a great impact on twentieth-century poetic practice, he was also preoccupied with his "spiritual father." Pound's 1909 essay, "What I Feel about Walt Whitman," expressed his feelings about Whitman in unusually positive terms:

Mentally I am a Walt Whitman who has learned to wear a collar and a dress shirt (although at times inimical to both). Personally I might be very glad to conceal my relationship to my spiritual father and brag about my more congenial ancestry—Dante, Shakespeare, Theocritus, Villon, but the descent is difficult to establish. And, to be frank, Whitman is to my fatherland . . . what Dante is to Italy and I at best can only strive for a renaissance in America of all the lost or temporarily mislaid beauty, truth, valor, glory of Greece, Italy, England and all the rest of it.    (SP, 145–46)

As the title of the essay indicates, Pound could at this point only describe his "feelings" for Whitman rather than apply any rigorous critical standard to his work. The passage reveals Pound's complex and ambivalent relation to his predecessor, which Pound understood and honestly expressed. Pound recognized that although Whitman's dominant presence in American poetry made him a necessary "father" for Pound's own work, Whitman was a father that Pound—as well as an American nation in need of a dose of European "culture"—had in some ways outgrown. Whitman was the father whose presence at home was embarrassing to Pound, who had found a new realm of literature more suited to his own sensibilities. In comparison to the work of other writers, Dante in particular, Pound found


Whitman's work often "disgusting," an "exceedingly nauseating pill" that caused him "acute pain" when he read it. Nevertheless, he saw that it was a pill that had to be taken if he was to remain an "American" poet, true to the vital "sap and fibre" as well as the "crudity" of America.

Whitman was for Pound the quintessential "Uncouth American" who needed to be chastened, to have his broken wood "carved," to have his America "scourge[d] . . . with all the old beauty" of Europe. In The Spirit of Romance Pound compared Whitman, perhaps unfairly, to his "greater" European counterparts (both "fathers" of their own traditions) Dante and Villon. Though Pound never quoted a line of Whitman as evidence of these claims, he assumed his "cultivated" reader would agree with him that Whitman was less "perfect" and "convincing" than Dante, more self-complacent and less sincerely suffering than Villon. Pound provided both a poetic parody of Whitman's "Song of Myself" and a cutting commentary on Whitman's "horrible air of rectitude." Pound's youthful attitude toward his compatriot notwithstanding, he never forgot that he, too, was an American and as such could not forsake entirely the tradition of Whitman, who "is America." Pound realized in his later life and work that what Whitman had achieved, the "optimism and breadth of vision" Pound had satirized in his early writing, was a worthy poetic aim.[1] It was Whitman's lack of craftsmanship that Pound found hardest to forgive, though he did say, with some foresight, that "we have not yet paid enough attention to the deliberate artistry of the man" (SP, 146).[2]

The copossession of Whitman and Pound by many later poets suggests that the differences between them as artists were less


important to their reception than what they were seen to share. The poets of the following generation detected a homology both in their concept of artistic creation and in their vision of America. Pound's America, like that of Whitman, was one of democratic possibility and promise as well as one of virile and sometimes violent character—based as it was on the "real work" needed to overcome severe natural forces. Whitman and Pound shared a dislike for the genteel and effete tradition of Eastern intellectuals, which represented the other "America."

Pound differed importantly from Whitman, however, in refusing to extend his vision of democracy to his readership. He could not agree with his predecessor that "to have great poets, there must be great audiences too," nor would he see himself as one of the "mass," as Whitman had done.[3] Both Olson and Duncan were to criticize Pound for just this anti-Whitmanic attitude, for his inability to understand the increasing needs and demands of the masses, and for the resulting tendency to cling to an authoritarian order that could stand for "culture." Likewise, Williams chastised Pound for selling out to cultural "grand schemes" and for embracing the ready-made culture of Europe rather than trying to establish an art that would be more representative of his American origins.[4] Pound's "poem including history" is clearly not intended to be the history of the common man that Whitman, Williams, and, to a great extent, Olson envision in their work; nevertheless it is, as Ginsberg and others see it, the Whitmanic "song of myself," an open-ended and fluctuating record of "mind-consciousness."


It should be apparent from this discussion that reading Pound through Whitman (or Whitman through Pound) raises important questions about the nature of the Pound tradition. Making Pound the heir to the most "American" of poets—as the later American poets who use Pound as a model have chosen to do—is clearly problematic. Even though Pound did inherit some portion of the legacy of Whitman, it was an inheritance heavily supplemented by the works of poets from different traditions, some of which strongly contradict the impulse of Whitman's poetry and his democratic stance.[5] But it is in the nature of a poetic tradition to define its models by what it needs to find in them. Just as Pound needed to be identified with Whitman to give him legitimacy as an American poet after World War II, Whitman needed Pound to make him a legitimate model in a more sophisticated twentieth-century America. In the revisionist reading of Whitman by the internationally literate generation of postwar American poets, the crude poetic persona and the provincial sense of culture that Pound had seen in him were no longer emphasized. Whitman came increasingly to be seen by the new poetic community as the direct precursor of two American Modernists: the more "provincial," yet dogmatically experimental, Williams and the culturally "sophisticated," yet unmistakably American, Pound.[6]

Despite his age (a year older than Pound), Williams displayed a sensibility that was to ally him more closely with the postmodernist generation of Olson, Duncan, and Creeley than with the "High Modernist" mind-set of Pound. As early as 1920,


Williams had in Kora in Hell accused Pound's writing of being too dependent on received notions of poetry and culture, calling him "the best enemy of American verse." For his part, Pound had sought to convince Williams of the necessity for European culture as an antidote to his naive idealization of America. Pound had also urged Williams to spend some time on the other side of the Atlantic so that he might "see a human being now and then" (SL, 173). Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Pound's teasing and often patronizing attitude and Williams's rebellious feelings characterized their complex relationship, one involving a deeply founded friendship, a mutual sense of respect, and, at the same time, increasingly antipathetic political and artistic viewpoints.

In part, it was their differing responses to "Whitmanic" American poetry that accounted for their deep-seated differences in poetic and cultural orientations. Whereas Pound considered Whitman's presence as an American forebear of primary importance, Williams viewed the poetry Whitman wrote more clearly as a model for his own. For Williams, Whitman's work was a necessary statement against the "order" called for by formal poetry represented in this century by "the new Anglo-Catholicism" of Eliot and the later poets of the New Critical mode. Williams saw in the "structural innovations" of Whitman a verse that was "measure" (not merely "free verse") but that would be "one of more trust, greater liberty, than has been permitted in the past . . . an open formation."[7] Williams in 1939—like Duncan and Ginsberg some two decades later—saw Whitman as a liberating model through which to justify his own metrical experiments as well as a counterbalance to the rival "academic" tradition.

As Pound was adopting a vision of "culture" supported by his version of European history and civilization and by the propaganda of fascist Italy, Williams felt increasingly alienated from him and took a largely defensive position in response to Pound's criticism of Williams's work and his country. In a 1933 letter


Williams accepted some of Pound's criticism but not his use of America:

Fer the luv of God snap out of it! I'm no more sentimental about "murika" than Li Po was about China or Shakespeare about Yingland or any damned Frog about Paris. I know as well as you do that there's nothing sacred about any land. But I also know (as you do also) that there's no taboo effective against any land, and where I live is no more a "province" than I make it. To hell with youse. I ain't tryin' to be an international figure. All I care about is to write.[8]

By 1938 Williams's patience with Pound had been exhausted, and a vehement rhetoric had replaced the friendly tone of his earlier letters. "What the hell have you done that I haven't done?" he wrote Pound. "I've met a hell of a lot more of all kinds of people than you'll ever get your eyes on and I've known them inside and outside in ways you'll never know."[9] During the period from 1939 to 1946, the rivalry Williams had always felt with Pound developed into a complete intolerance for him. The relationship reached its lowest point in 1946, when on Pound's return from Europe Williams showed little interest in visiting him at St. Elizabeth's or in offering him support.[10]

By this time Williams was engaged in writing his own epic—Paterson . As the immediate mood of the war subsided, Williams turned from the sense of anger and betrayal he felt toward Pound to a recognition of the importance of his poetry. It is in the crucial period from 1947 to 1950, the same period during which an involvement with Pound by a new generation of poets instigated a revival of interest in Pound's work, that Williams was to write his most significant criticism of The Cantos . This criticism affirmed both Williams's own place in the Pound tradition and the resemblance of his sentiments concerning the importance of Pound's work to those of younger poets discovering Pound for the first time.


Williams had always recognized the importance of Pound's use of language and his poetic line, but at this point his praise of The Cantos included other areas as well: Pound's use of history to "make a world, an actual world—not 'of the imagination' but a world imagined"; his use of poetic "material"; his "superb ear" and the musicality of his verse; even the essential "truth" of most of what Pound said in The Cantos .[11] Just as Williams's later poems, including Paterson, contained the greatest poetic expression of his particular assimilation of Pound's poetic principles, the criticism of Pound's work that Williams wrote in the late 1940s and early 1950s was his most mature commentary on Pound's poetic practice. Williams's critical judgments and continuing poetic development were supported by the younger poets of the Pound tradition. In fact, Olson's "Projective Verse" helped Williams to articulate more clearly some of the directions his own poetics had been taking in the 1940s.[12] According to M. L. Rosenthal,

Williams saw ["Projective Verse"] as an extension and clarification of his own vague but germinative idea of the "variable foot." Announcing that "an advance of estimable proportions is made by looking at the poem as a field rather than an assembly of more or less ankylosed lines," he linked the essay's importance to the fact that, as he puts it, "the reconstruction of the poem [is] one of the major occupations in our day."[13]

The wisdom of Williams's reappraisals of Pound's work, along with his support of Olson's manifesto, helped plant the seeds for a postwar Pound tradition. Williams's criticism of The Cantos reflected in large part his own interests in the field of poetics. His praise of the "music" of Pound's poetry, "the way


the words are joined in the common line," was concomitant with his interest in the idea of the poetic line as "measure," following the sequence of a musical phrase.

Williams stressed the importance of Pound's use of poetic "material" such as history and economics as a means to important social or political statement. "Money as we use it (usury) is our hell," Williams wrote. "[Pound's] poem happens to be true, true to the facts which, being overridden in the past, have continued to destroy us through the ages, bringing on wars." Williams also credited Pound with contributing importantly to the American poetic language, which was at war with that being spoken and written on the other side of the Atlantic and which "had burst the bounds of a narrow world and was spreading helter-skelter over a vast continent." The Pisan Cantos, Williams wrote, were written in "the most authentically sounding language . . . of our present day speech."[14] Williams saw in the language of these Cantos an integrity achieved through "a sense of reality in the words."

Although Williams and Pound never completely resolved their differences, younger poets of the Pound tradition were not greatly bothered by what they viewed as the largely superficial squabbling of their elders. It was Pound and Williams's joint legacy to younger poets, not their differences, that mattered. Olson saw the Objectivist techniques of Pound and Williams as harbingers of the "projective" stance of his generation; they had opened up the possibility of a "change beyond, and larger than, the technical" that would lead to "a new poetics." But Pound's Objectivism, which in Olson's terms represented the search for an objectification of experience that minimized interference by the subjective "lyric" ego of the poet, was a partial failure. Pound's Objectivism never reached the point at which the poet was in a "natural" relation to his experience of an object. Olson coined the term Objectism to refer to "a more valid formulation" of Objectivism suggested by his reading of Alfred North Whitehead. Objectism stood for "the getting rid of the lyrical


interference of the individual as ego, of the subject and his soul, that peculiar presumption by which modern man has interposed himself between what he is as a creature of nature and those other creations of nature which we may, with no derogation, call objects" (SW, 23–24).

Unlike Williams, whom Olson felt was more in touch with a realistic experience of social reality and whose "emotional system" was "capable of extensiohs & comprehensions the ego-system . . . is not," Pound tried to "break down" everything, including history, with the "beak" of his ego (SW, 82).[15] Yet although the "ego as beak" was to become "bent and busted" (in Pound's inability to achieve a workable solution to the political, historical, and formal problems of The Cantos ), the only possible alternative, Williams's "localism" in Paterson, was also inadequate to Olson's needs. Olson criticized both Pound and Williams for failing to provide in their work a system of understanding that could be translated directly into action. (See chapter 4 for a more detailed discussion of Olson's relationship to Pound and Williams.) In a letter to Cid Corman, Olson explained that if Williams "gave us the lead on the LOCAL ," Pound's "ragbag" was "one long extrapolation . . . on WILL ," a call to "be political" (LO, 130). Pound came closer than Williams to satisfying Olson's need for a larger "context" by providing a notion of "process" based on a "politics" and engendered by acts of "will," even though the position from which Pound's view of history and politics was proclaimed—that of cultural elitism, political fascism, and ethnic prejudice—compromised its validity.[16] Pound provided the right impulse, "the BLAST instead of the STORY ," even if it was often a "blast" in the wrong direction (LO, 129). Despite the overall social and political mood of the American poetry movement in the 1950s


and 1960s—one that favored the more accessible and politically attractive Williams over the often obscure, erudite, and politically suspect Pound—poets such as Olson, Duncan, and Snyder found Pound rather than Williams to be the more compelling model for their own poetic projects.

One poet who interpreted and applied Pound's ideas more literally than Williams did and who developed a system of poetics based on Pound's ideas long before Olson's "Projective Verse" was the intellectual leader and chief spokesperson for the short-lived Objectivist movement, Louis Zukofsky. Even though Pound and Williams can be considered the movement's sponsors, the Objectivists really consisted of a group of younger poets of the early 1930s: the Americans Zukofsky, Oppen, Reznikoff, and Rakosi and the English Bunting. The Objectivists were, as Laszlo Géfin points out, "the first group of American poets who attempted to make use of Pound's theories and to prove that his aesthetics offered new possibilities in poetic composition."[17] These poets were not well received by the academic community, and they labored in relative obscurity until the 1960s, when they began to be known by a small but loyal following composed mainly of younger poets of the Pound tradition. Zukofsky and the other Objectivists provided in their statements of poetics the first and still the most formally descriptive poetic theory based on his ideas, and they established in their own poetic practice further evidence of the uses to which Pound's poetic ideas could be put.[18]

Although less actively involved in the Objectivist movement than Williams, Pound was the major impetus behind the formation of the group and behind Zukofsky's own poetry, and


Zukofsky's "Objectivists" Anthology was dedicated to him. Zukofsky greatly admired Pound's art and sought to put into practice many of his ideas. Zukofsky's relationship to Pound differed from that of Williams, however, in being almost entirely that of disciple to mentor. Zukofsky felt less need to distance himself from Pound than Williams had, and he adopted not only many of Pound's ideas but often his vocabulary as well in an attempt to establish a scientific poetics based on Pound's work. Zukofsky was the first poet to see clearly the fundamentally ideogrammatic structure on which Pound's Cantos was constructed, identifying as early as 1930 the way in which "Pound has not concerned himself merely with isolation of the image—a cross-breeding between single words which are absolute symbols for things and textures . . . but with the poetic locus produced by the passage from one image to another" (PZ, 134).

As acute as Zukofsky was in his criticism of Pound, the difficulty of his own poetry as well as the intimidating terminology of his poetics made his work less generally attractive and useful to other poets than that of Williams. Zukofsky's manifestos—"An Objective" and "Sincerity and Objectification"—are particularly dense documents that resist easy interpretation and application. Zukofsky defines Objectivism in terms of two concepts that have attained common usage in the Pound tradition: sincerity and objectification. Although most attempts to clarify their meaning have failed, it is possible to look at them as two stages in Objectivist poetry: sincerity is that quality present in all good poetic writing involving an "attention" to the details of experience and the honest reaction to that experience, and objectification is the ultimate and rare state of a poem conveying "the totality of perfect rest" (PZ, 13).

Pound's Imagist practice is clearly the basis for the Objectivist position, but while it shares with that of Imagism the notion of conveying the totality and energy of the object or experience, Objectivism places a greater emphasis on formal construction, on the sense of the poem as object. Zukofsky defines the aim of the movement in terms that have particular resonance for poets like Duncan and Creeley: the movement would consist of the


"desire for what is objectively perfect, inextricably the direction of historic and contemporary particulars" (PZ, 12).

Duncan, the self-proclaimed "first of my generation" to read Zukofsky along with Pound and Williams, attempts to describe the way in which Zukofsky's Objectivism differs from Pound's Imagist or Vorticist practice in The Cantos . Pound, Duncan asserts, presents in his work a stream of consciousness in images of light and water, radiation and flowing. Pound's is a moving image that sweeps up particulars in the path of its emotional and aesthetic energy. "Pound sees the condition of the modern mind as a fractured stream," Duncan writes, "not as a construct." Zukofsky, however, seeks a fully attained emotion that will be "the product of a work, the poem a piece of work like a desk . . . the prospect of constructing and attaining an object built up of parts of 'emotion' in progress." As Zukofsky emphasizes in his analogy of poetic craft with woodworking, the formal characteristics of his composition will be more highly foregrounded in a poem than they are in much of Pound's work. Form is not opposed to artistic freedom in Zukofsky's poetry; rather, the two impulses work together in what Duncan calls "the functionalism of the modern style ... to seek the essential in the working articulation of the poem."[19] Objectivism's emphasis on sincerity as a means of achieving form follows Pound's decree to reject "abstraction," to "act upon particulars" as a way of avoiding falseness or artificiality, and, in Carl Rakosi's words, "to present objects in their most essential reality and to make of each poem an object . . . meaning by this, obviously, the opposite of a subject, the opposite of all forms of personal vagueness."[20] The sincerity of a poem and its level of "objectification" were seen as the measures of the poet's craft. Thus, the first step toward sincerity for the Objectivists was, as Hugh Kenner suggests, "care for the single words" and often for the "little words . . . like 'tree' and 'hill' " (and even smaller words such as "a" and


"the") whose semantic, syntactic, and sonic interaction with other words can be calibrated with mathematical precision.[21]

Zukofsky also contributed to the reception of Pound's work in two other ways: in making more explicit the musical analogy for poetic form and composition suggested in Pound's writings and taken up by, among others, Olson, Duncan, and Ginsberg; and in emphasizing the importance of "typography" as a "graphic representation of thought," a concept Olson developed further in "Projective Verse" (PZ, 17).[22]

With Duncan's support, Zukofsky became an important presence at Black Mountain, a "polar force" to Olson himself. In a sense, Zukofsky and Olson represented two sides of Pound's own work, each exemplifying tendencies that were anathema to poets in the other's camp.[23] Where Olson took on Pound's more grandiose poetic persona, proposing a "primordial, titanic, unaccountable spirit in poetry, beyond measure, where one could only take soundings and carry the compass in a boundless time and space," Zukofsky sought a poetry that enacted more rigorously the tenets of Imagism—the mathematical exactitude of a work "stripped to essentials" (FC, 213).

Robert Creeley was the poet at Black Mountain whose work was the most deeply indebted to Zukofsky's Objectivism. Creeley was introduced and "converted" to the work of Zukofsky by Duncan in 1955 and printed several of Zukofsky's poems in Black Mountain Review . Creeley subsequently wrote several articles on his Objectivist forebear and was instrumental in bringing him to greater recognition. While recognizing the differences between Zukofsky's art and Pound's, Creeley saw Zukofsky as following in the Poundian mode of attention to the interplay of sound, form, and meaning. Zukofsky shared with


Pound "a particular sensitivity to the qualities in poetry of 'sight, sound and intellection'" (QG, 131).

Two poems from among those mentioned by Creeley demonstrate the aspects of Zukofsky's work that were most attractive to younger poets. One of Zukofsky's most impressive shorter poems, number 36 from the series Anew (1941), exemplifies many of the Objectivist qualities of his work:

To reach that age
       a tide
And full
       for a time
              be young.[24]

Zukofsky's care for the sound of individual words and his sense of "form as measure" are both apparent here, as is the mode of strict "attention" to a given experience. All these elements combine to produce what Duncan calls an "emotion in progress," that intensification of direct experience leading to a state of sincerity. The poem enacts a tension between the movement toward stasis or completion and the reassertion of temporality and flux. This tension is reflected in the poem's graphic composition; the lines move backward and forward across the page, rotating around the centrally placed image of "a tide"—itself an embodiment both of constant change (toward death) and renewal.

The most important of Zukofsky's works for younger poets was the long poem "A", an alternative to The Cantos and Paterson as a model for the development of the longer poetic form. Pound himself had admired Zukofsky's earlier work but found later sections of "A" too "mathematical," too far removed from "actual speech."[25] Duncan appreciated what Zukofsky had accomplished in his poetry: "In time we see that


increasingly "A" moves towards a speech specific to the poem itself, yet providing breakthrus [sic] of our common speech. . . . The 'feel' of actual speech has been enlarged to include in its range not only how we hear others talking but how others could talk" (FC, 214).

In tracing the evolution of "A", we can fruitfully compare an early passage from section 2 (1928) with a later passage from section 22 (1970–73). The first passage, although it illustrates the clarity and immediacy of Zukofsky's vision as well as his precision of statement, is little more than an expanded Imagist moment:

The music is in the flower
Leaf around leaf ranged around the center;
Profuse but clear outer leaf breaking on space,
There is space to step to the central heart;
The music is in the flower,
It is not the sea but hyaline cushions the flower—
Lifeforever, everlasting.[26]

The second passage achieves an intense formal compression through the use of five-line stanzas composed of five-word lines:

Others letters a sum owed
ages account years each year
out of old fields, permute
blow blue up against yellow
—scapes welcome young birds—initial

transmutes itself, swim near and
read a weed's reward—grain
an omen a good omen
the chill mists greet woods
ice, flowers—their soul's return[27]

Although my discussion just touches on the complexity in this passage, it is clear that Zukofsky goes beyond the original tenets of Objectivism in his interweaving of sonic, visual, and mental patterns and in his relative disregard for what Pound would have


considered clarity of statement. The characteristic reliance on a diction of precise images remains, as does the propensity for short, even monosyllabic words. But the poem's syntax (at least as traditionally understood) has been subordinated to other concerns: the free interplay of images; the musical effects of "tone leading" of vowels as well as various kinds of assonance, consonance, alliteration, and verbal repetition; and the mixing of registers of diction.[28]

Despite the continuing advocacy of poets such as Duncan and Creeley, the work of Zukofsky and the Objectivists was not recognized by the academy for more than a decade after the publication of Olson's "Projective Verse." This fact is hardly surprising given both the questionable academic status of Pound and his followers during these years and the radical departure Objectivist poetry represented from the poetic models taught in the age of New Criticism. It was not until the early experiments of the Language poets that Zukofsky became a seminal influence rivaling the importance of Pound and Williams.

Nevertheless, it was Black Mountain that provided the environment in which Zukofsky was first read and actively discussed and in which his influence contributed, along with that of Pound and Williams, to the postmodern poetic revolution of the early 1950s. As Black Mountain's rector and spiritual leader, Olson helped to form a new understanding of intellectual community, which included alternatives to canonical texts and authors. The Poundian vortex of writers, artists, and thinkers in various disciplines whose ideas Olson helped bring together embodied expanded possibilities for higher learning and allowed for an openness to traditions not prized by most institutions of Western academic thought.


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